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Issue 11
, 2009
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Learning about environment through gaming

Can the duo meet?
Source: Toxics Alert in chat with Salil Chaturvedi, Date: , 2009

salil chaturvediCan multimedia tools replace traditional educational tools being used for ages in Indian schools?

The idea is not to replace any educational tool, but rather to augment educational methodology, to add to the learning experience of the child. Every product or technology has its unique advantages and drawbacks – textual material, for example, can provide information detail that no other medium can match. Multimedia combines voice, animation, text, music, video and interactivity and is thus a powerful way of bringing a subject alive for students. Combine it with story-telling and gaming, as we do in our projects, and you have a fascinating approach as far as kids (and even adults) are concerned. Another powerful aspect of multimedia is the non-linear approach which allows learners to access subjects as per their own level of interest, at their own preferred time, and at their own pace.

On the other hand, multimedia tends to be expensive, what with the voice-over artists, graphic designers, instructional designers, musicians, programming, content, research and academic teams that go into bringing out a decent product. In a country like India, it might not be affordable for everyone. There is, however, a large target segment that can afford it, and for those who can’t, government bodies or civil society organisations can develop programmes that give them access to such materials as well.

On the same note, do you think multimedia could be an effect mode of transferring environmental awareness amongst children?

Our approach has been to take information that does not find its way easily into the mainstream and present it in a fun and engaging setting. So, our CDs have looked at waste management, disability issues, weather and climate, etc.

Tell us how you hatched the idea of creating a environmental multimedia tool?

Toxics Link was keen on reaching out to children and we had done several CDs on a variety of subjects. We were confident that we could take the largely academic content of TL and present it in a fun way. It was also a part of the strategy we had earlier presented to TL of creating ‘knowledge products’ out of the information material available, so that that information would reach wider audiences.

We decided to create a mystery game where children view the future using a time machine-like device. Fifty years down the line, the protagonists of the CD (a group of four children who call themselves the Fundoo 4) are shocked to find the city of Delhi beset with problems pertaining to waste management, electronic waste and mercury contamination. They then try and find out root causes, as a first step in hopefully preventing this impending disaster. They locate an expert (Bindas) who helps them solve the mystery of what has caused these horrific changes.

Multimedia has been deemed as a knowledge instrument in some of the developed countries already. Are we being slow to catch up?

It seems like that. There are several factors. Cost is one major factor, technological upgradation of schools is another. Teaching the teachers how to use these tools is also a factor. But things are changing. The real challenge in India is to develop tools that are localised. Students in Bengal might react to different cues from students in Andhra Pradesh or Punjab.

Environmental issues are definitely not all fun and games. But do you think that the Young India would start to take more interest in the issues if they are presented to them through computer or video games? In other what are the chances that once the game is over would the child sit back and think about the issues presented through the game?

I think the chances are very good, provided it is done in the right manner. It’s not just about games. To tell you honestly, I don’t remember much of the chemistry or physics I learnt in school. And I spent a lot of time learning those things! If one doesn’t find any application for the knowledge one acquires, apart from passing examinations, it is but natural that the brain will discard the knowledge due to disuse. I mean, if it is irrelevant, why store it? So, the crux is not only to make learning fun, but also relevant. Take the CD we developed for Toxics Link as an example. The child has to play a game where waste has to be sorted out into organic and recyclable bins. At another stage, the child plays a game where the point is to figure out what gets recycled into what (aluminum hangers into utensils, for example). Then there are live examples where a ragpicker talks about her relationship with waste, and a lorry driver talks about his attitude to the waste he drops at landfills. By creating a web of real-life situations, the child gets an insight into what is the nature of waste. The trick, I think, is to give the learner a task, ideally from a real life situation, in which she has to apply the knowledge.

Is the Indian gaming industry generally planning to focus on environment?

I think the reverse question should be asked. Are environmental organizations going to focus on the gaming industry? It’s not a bad idea to start a dialogue and develop programmes where the knowledge-base of the gaming industry is also enhanced. I am always surprised how little we know about the world we live in. A friend of mine who lives in Singapore had no idea where the waste was dumped. I reckon, not many people in Delhi would know where the landfills are located around the capital. They would definitely not have visited them.

What innovation in environmental gaming you can suggest so that they become rage even in small towns?

Affordability and localized content are the keys. These days, the internet is also a powerful delivery channel. Take, a popular gaming site. Wouldn’t it be great to launch some environmental games on their site?

What kind of response do you usually face when you try to explain to parents about gaming as a method of learning especially learning about environment?

We’ve received a great thumbs-up from parents and children alike. It’s natural that parents are looking for products that go beyond shoot-em-up games. Our approach of using mainstream techniques such as quality animation, good scripts and a strong storyline also help make the products attractive to children, and not ‘preachy’ – a sure way to turn kids off.

(Salil Chaturvedi is Partner at Splash! Communications, a communications consultancy that he runs along with Aniruddha Sen Gupta.Over the last eight years, Splash! has acted as the communications arm of several grassroots and advocacy organisations working in the fields of disability, the environment, human rights, etc. Since 2004, Splash! has decided to make education, especially using electronic media, their core area of development.)